Healers abuse people’s faith

Catherine Mwauyakufa, CNS Correspondent, Zimbabwe
(First published in Manica Post)
Acceptance of any condition is the first step to recovery. Denial is fatal. Acceptance is a process, and not an event. So acceptance of any condition is of importance to getting well. Not everyone has to disclose publicly, but disclosing to a loved one, or a buddy, helps. Everyone needs a medic buddy to help adhere to treatment. My spouse is my medic buddy who reminds me to take my medication.

The HIV and TB response hinges on faith and on consistent and correct uptake of medicines. Anything I do is encompassed by perseverance and determination to overcome the odds. The first battle is having faith to overcome. Believing that yes it is possible to get well, and then taking on the armour to be a victor by following the doctor’s instructions. All that requires a high degree of faith. I am happy that I do not have blind faith in anyone, but I do have faith that my maker and creator will see me through. God helps those who help themselves. Faith and religious leaders have a great role to play in dealing with diseases like TB and HIV. The saying that religion is the opium of the people is true. Traditional leaders are respected in their communities, and empowering them with treatment literacy pays off. Their word is listened to. People believe in their religions and empowering the leaders with correct information and treatment literacy is the starting point to fighting stigma.

In Zimbabwe, most of faith leaders support intake of medication. However, there are some new faith leaders out to make money. They sell anointed bracelets, DVDs, pens, (anything they can think of) and make the desperate patients believe that they have been healed, and so the patients stop taking medicines. This is dangerous. Dr Tapiwanashe Bwakura giving feedback in Harare after the Melbourne AIDS conference had said that most of those who left treatment in between were those wearing ‘anointed’ bangles on their wrists. “The majority of our hospital admissions are of treatment defaulters. They testify that they stopped medication after receiving their so-called ‘healing’. They believe that a bangle protects and heals them. Sad indeed,” said Dr Bwakura. This ought not to be found in today’s response as such leaders are misinforming their followers. There are, however, many well meaning faith leaders who encourage followers to take medication religiously as per doctors’ instructions. Inerela Zimbabwe, under Reverend Chiponda, encourages affected communities to seek medical help with the faith and belief that they will be healed using conventional medicines.

“As Inerela Zimbabwe, we are faith-based leaders. We believe in God through Jesus Christ. We espouse healing as a miracle, it does not happen en-masse. So we urge people to listen to what their doctor says,” said Rev Chiponda, the man leading the Zimbabwe chapter. South Africa based Secretary General of Inerela, Rev Phumuzile Mabizela, raised the faith bar by saying: “Pray that your medication will work and never default on your treatment.” She fights stigma and discrimination saying: “Run away from any leader who says ‘by your faith you are healed’. Rather pray that you remain faithful to taking medication.” Local traditional leaders are encouraging the use of medication as prescribed by doctors. Zinatha, the local chapter of traditional medicine in Zimbabwe, dismisses the notion that patients stop medication. Working together with the National AIDS Council, they have been trained, and indabas (meetings) to empower members are held. Traditional leaders are a force to reckon with in the HIV/TB response.  A traditional healer, Sekuru Joram from Goromonzi, said: “We work together with today’s doctors and tell our clients not to stop treatment at all. Our warfare is mostly spiritual, but we also give herbs where necessary.”

Catherine Mwauyakufa, Citizen News Service - CNS
March 15, 2017